People & Power
Is defeat of M23 a turning point in Uganda-Rwanda Great Lakes dream?
Posted Sunday, November 10 2013 at 02:00
Last week, Mr Bertrand Bisimwa, the political head and supposed Commander-in-Chief of the M23 Movement, declared the end of the armed rebellion. The rebel group has caused tension in the region and Sunday Monitor’s Timothy Kalyegira explores what the defeat could signal for two Eastern Africa countries.
Last week, in a dramatic turn of events, the Congolese rebel group known as the March 23 (M23), announced it was abandoning its armed insurrection in the eastern part of the country.
The Congolese army, backed by a United Nations brigade made up of Tanzanian, South African and Malawian soldiers defeated the M23 after a week of heavy fighting that involved battle tanks and helicopter support.
M23 rebels who fled into the cover of the forests were pursued there, located and destroyed. Many shocked M23 guerrillas fled into neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.
The M23 were the offshoot of another Banyamulenge fighting group called the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) headed by a renegade Congolese army general, Lt Gen Laurent Nkunda Batware.
The CNDP had been formed after a rebellion by Tutsi in the Congolese army who complained about unpaid wages and discrimination and who made their intentions known to create an enclave or even a breakaway republic in eastern Congo, their home area.
On January 22, 2009 after Gen Nkunda was invited to a meeting to coordinate a combined military operation between Rwanda and Congo, he was arrested, placed under house arrest in the Rwandan town of Gisenyi, but reports say he now lives quietly in a tightly-guarded house in Kigali.
Nkunda’s arrest saw the gradual dissolution of the CNDP but to fill the gap and lead the aspirations of Congo’s Tutsi minority, the M23 (most of its fighters formerly in the CNDP) was formed.
Background to Tutsi militancy in the Great Lakes region, 1989 to 2013
The rise of armed Tutsi groups in eastern Congo was a natural outgrowth of the formation of a Tutsi-dominated political group in Uganda in 1989 called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
The RPF, made up mainly of exiled Tutsi in Uganda, but also from Burundi, South Africa, Tanzania and Congo, itself arose from the desire to return home that followed the 1959 Hutu rebellion that sent more than 150,000 Tutsi into exile in neighbouring countries, the majority of them in Uganda.
The Tutsi had traditionally, during pre-colonial times, been the ruling aristocracy in the same way the Nilo-Hamitic Bahima of Ankole and the Babiito of Bunyoro and Tooro in Uganda were.
The loss of their dignity and home and the humiliating years as refugees in camps in Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi and status of servitude that followed was a deeply traumatic experience for the Tutsi.
Taking advantage of the various Ugandan governments’ open policy, the Tutsi organised, integrated into Uganda’s school system, civil service, army and most of all, the intelligence services, the State Research Bureau in the 1970s.
Following the overthrow of President Milton Obote and the formation of a guerrilla group called the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), led by a former intelligence officer called Yoweri Museveni, a number of these Tutsi joined Museveni while the majority served either in Idi Amin’s army or intelligence.
After the 1979 Tanzania-Uganda war, Museveni recruited many Tutsi youth into Fronasa in Mbarara and they joined the UNLA national army.
Following the disputed 1980 general election and the launch of his guerrilla war in Luweero in central Uganda, Tutsi soldiers and students, among them Fred Rwigyema, Adam Wasswa, Paul Kagame, Kayumba Nyamwasa, Patrick Karegyeya, James Kabarebe and others either foght in Luweero in Museveni’s NRA or served in military and intelligence capacities after Museveni captured state power in 1986.
Museveni became the most important rallying point and inspirational figure for the exiled Tutsi. His five-year guerrilla war and eventual victory against a sitting government gave the Tutsi a glimpse into the realm of what was possible: a rag-tag army could be created and slowly fight a protracted Maoist guerrilla war and one day topple a government.
It gave the Tutsi soldiers something to think about. If it could be done in Uganda, why couldn’t it be done in Rwanda?
Soon after the NRA came to power in Uganda, the Tutsi in Uganda wasted no time in secretly plotting a similar guerrilla war in Rwanda.